If Books Could Kill
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kate Carlisle’s If Books Could Kill is a deft mystery with a compelling literary theme. Brooklyn Wainwright, protagonist in Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery Series, is an expert on book restoration, which also turns out to be a surprisingly dangerous craft because of human jealousies. (Is nothing immune?) Having recently dealt with the murder of her mentor, Abraham, and having narrowly averted her own murder, Brooklyn travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend the annual book fair. Hoping to relax and to enjoy the fair with old friends, Brooklyn’s plans are immediately thwarted when she runs into Kyle McVee, an old lover who cheated on her shamelessly. Over a drink in an atmospheric pub, Kyle asks Brooklyn to authenticate a unique book of poems that he has unearthed, suspecting that they were, as purported, written by Scottish literary saint Robert Burns, and were concealed because they recounted an affair and illegitimate child with a member of the British monarchy. Then Kyle receives a phone call and rushes off, leaving Brooklyn alone with the book. That evening, Brooklyn and her friend Helen discover Kyle’s body while they are on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, and Brooklyn assumes that the murder is connected with Kyle’s discovery of the unique book. As another body emerges and she escapes several “accidents,” Brooklyn is even more certain that the book is at the heart of the violence.

Meanwhile, comic relief shows up in the form of Brooklyn’s parents, old hippies who live on a now-prosperous commune in California wine country. Their New Age beliefs, retro jargon and screwball antics are alone worth the price of the book. The laughs are temporary, though, because violence erupts again, leading to a startling revelation, as Brooklyn arrives at the solution to the mystery. Kate Carlisle is one mystery author whose books will never be in need of restoration.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 April 2010 10:04

Kate Carlisle’s If Books Could Kill is a deft mystery with a compelling literary theme. Brooklyn Wainwright, protagonist in Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery Series, is an expert on book restoration, which also turns out to be a surprisingly dangerous craft because of human jealousies. (Is nothing immune?) Having recently dealt with the murder of her mentor, Abraham, and having narrowly averted her own murder, Brooklyn travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend the annual book fair. Hoping to relax and to enjoy the fair with old friends, Brooklyn’s plans are immediately thwarted when she runs into Kyle McVee, an old lover who cheated on her shamelessly. Over a drink in an atmospheric pub, Kyle asks Brooklyn to authenticate a unique book of poems that he has unearthed, suspecting that they were, as purported, written by Scottish literary saint Robert Burns, and were concealed because they recounted an affair and illegitimate child with a member of the British monarchy. Then Kyle receives a phone call and rushes off, leaving Brooklyn alone with the book. That evening, Brooklyn and her friend Helen discover Kyle’s body while they are on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, and Brooklyn assumes that the murder is connected with Kyle’s discovery of the unique book. As another body emerges and she escapes several “accidents,” Brooklyn is even more certain that the book is at the heart of the violence.

Meanwhile, comic relief shows up in the form of Brooklyn’s parents, old hippies who live on a now-prosperous commune in California wine country. Their New Age beliefs, retro jargon and screwball antics are alone worth the price of the book. The laughs are temporary, though, because violence erupts again, leading to a startling revelation, as Brooklyn arrives at the solution to the mystery. Kate Carlisle is one mystery author whose books will never be in need of restoration.

How to Wash a Cat
Lynne F. Maxwell

Here’s a first mystery that’s made a meteoric rise on the bestseller charts, and my suspicion is that the clever title is responsible for capturing the curiosity of numerous readers. After all, who could resist a book entitled How to Wash a Cat? And could it possibly be about washing cats? I don’t think I’m giving much away by divulging that the book’s focus is far removed (but not completely) from the subtle art of cat washing. Instead, it is an odd tribute to fog-enshrouded San Francisco, suffused in history and mystery. The novel’s narrator, unnamed until the very end, is the niece of a peculiar antiques dealer named Oscar. The narrator, for reasons unexplained, shuns human contact, instead seeking comfort in the order and ritual of accountancy. When she suddenly inherits Oscar’s building and business, she reluctantly emerges into a semi-social world populated by peculiar characters—almost caricatures, really—who draw her into solving a mystery about the death of one of the city’s founding fathers, who apparently faked his death by means of a secret potion. Oscar has left secret maps and messages for his niece, hinting at the existence of a subterranean tunnel system. Where is this tunnel and where does it lead? Why does it exist? The narrator, accompanied by her infinitely patient and compliant cats Rupert and Isabella, explores the possibilities.

The surreal plot and at times less-than-real characters, will keep you guessing. I’m even wondering whether I’ve ever read a bestselling mystery with nary a scintilla of romance. Very mysterious, indeed. How to wash a cat? Very carefully!

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 April 2010 10:04

Here’s a first mystery that’s made a meteoric rise on the bestseller charts, and my suspicion is that the clever title is responsible for capturing the curiosity of numerous readers. After all, who could resist a book entitled How to Wash a Cat? And could it possibly be about washing cats? I don’t think I’m giving much away by divulging that the book’s focus is far removed (but not completely) from the subtle art of cat washing. Instead, it is an odd tribute to fog-enshrouded San Francisco, suffused in history and mystery. The novel’s narrator, unnamed until the very end, is the niece of a peculiar antiques dealer named Oscar. The narrator, for reasons unexplained, shuns human contact, instead seeking comfort in the order and ritual of accountancy. When she suddenly inherits Oscar’s building and business, she reluctantly emerges into a semi-social world populated by peculiar characters—almost caricatures, really—who draw her into solving a mystery about the death of one of the city’s founding fathers, who apparently faked his death by means of a secret potion. Oscar has left secret maps and messages for his niece, hinting at the existence of a subterranean tunnel system. Where is this tunnel and where does it lead? Why does it exist? The narrator, accompanied by her infinitely patient and compliant cats Rupert and Isabella, explores the possibilities.

The surreal plot and at times less-than-real characters, will keep you guessing. I’m even wondering whether I’ve ever read a bestselling mystery with nary a scintilla of romance. Very mysterious, indeed. How to wash a cat? Very carefully!

Edgar Award Winners 2010

Congratulations to this year's Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award winners, announced last week. The winners are...

Best Novel
The Last Child, by John Hart

Best First Novel
In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Paperback Original
Body Blows, by Marc Strange


Best Critical/Biographical Book
The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler

Best Fact Crime
Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Best Short Story
"Amapola" in Pheonix Noir, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best Young Adult Novel
Reality Check, by Peter Abrahams

Best Juvenile
Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn

Best Television Episode Teleplay
"Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award
"A Dreadful Day" from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman

Simon & Schuster - Mary Higgins Clark Award
Awakening by S.J. Bolton

Grand Master
Dorothy Gilman

Raven Awards
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers' Festival


Ellery Queen Award
Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 April 2010 04:04

Congratulations to this year's Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award winners, announced last week. The winners are...

Best Novel
The Last Child, by John Hart

Best First Novel
In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Paperback Original
Body Blows, by Marc Strange


Best Critical/Biographical Book
The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler

Best Fact Crime
Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Best Short Story
"Amapola" in Pheonix Noir, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best Young Adult Novel
Reality Check, by Peter Abrahams

Best Juvenile
Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn

Best Television Episode Teleplay
"Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award
"A Dreadful Day" from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman

Simon & Schuster - Mary Higgins Clark Award
Awakening by S.J. Bolton

Grand Master
Dorothy Gilman

Raven Awards
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers' Festival


Ellery Queen Award
Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

The Red Blazer Girls: the Ring of Rocamadou
Roberta Rogow

In The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil, students at a classy private school in New York City embark on a treasure hunt when one of them spies a mysterious figure in the window of the church next to the school. Puzzles, anagrams, and some abstruse mathematics lead the Red Blazer Girls through a maze of clues to find a missing ring. Along the way, the girls find solutions to various family problems, and strengthen their friendships. These are blissfully normal girls, who aren't afraid to ask for adult assistance when they need it, but are able to face danger when it appears.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 April 2010 04:04

Puzzles, anagrams, and some abstruse mathematics lead the Red Blazer Girls through a maze of clues.

Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime
Roberta Rogow

Joey Fly Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime by Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman is a graphic novel set in the Bug City, where Joey Fly and his bumbling assistant Sammy Stingtail tackle the cases that find their way to their seedy office.

When Delilah, the glamorous butterfly, hires Joey Fly to find her missing pencil case, he knows he's on the trail of something big. Watch out for visual and verbal puns, as Fly and his assistant uncover the nastiness of Bug City. Reynolds has the dialog down pat, while Numberman's graphic illustrations depict Bug City in all its splendor and grit. There is jealousy and hate, and a more-or-less happy ending, and a list of items for youngsters to discover in the illustrations. Fun for adults as well as kids.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 April 2010 04:04

The buzzzzz on the Edgar-nominated graphic novel for kids featuring the bug PI Joey Fly.

If the Witness Lied
Roberta Rogow

Caroline Cooney is known for her suspenseful stories, and If the Witness Lied is one of her best. The four Fountain children have been scattered as their family disintegrates. First, Mother dies of cancer, then Father is killed in what looks like a pointless accident. Could baby Tris really have pulled the brake on the car, causing the fatal crash? With Maddy and Smithy at separate schools, it's up to young Jack to try to put things together. Why does Aunt Cheryl want to expose young Tris to the publicity of a reality show? Why are the bills piling up? Jack tries to get his grandparents to do something, but in the end, the older children have to work together to expose the monster in the family. a heart-wrenching thriller that will have readers rooting for the family that learns how to come together to survive.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 April 2010 04:04

Caroline Cooney is known for her suspenseful stories, and If the Witness Lied is one of her best. The four Fountain children have been scattered as their family disintegrates. First, Mother dies of cancer, then Father is killed in what looks like a pointless accident. Could baby Tris really have pulled the brake on the car, causing the fatal crash? With Maddy and Smithy at separate schools, it's up to young Jack to try to put things together. Why does Aunt Cheryl want to expose young Tris to the publicity of a reality show? Why are the bills piling up? Jack tries to get his grandparents to do something, but in the end, the older children have to work together to expose the monster in the family. a heart-wrenching thriller that will have readers rooting for the family that learns how to come together to survive.

Shadowed Summer
Roberta Rogow

Shadowed Summer, by Saundra Mitchell is Southern Gothic, with a twist. Iris and her family have come home to the small Louisiana town in the wake of Katrina and its aftermath, and as far as she can tell, there is nothing worth coming home to. Then Elijah appears, a wild spirit, perhaps a ghost? Iris has to find out what happened 14 years ago, to set Elijah free from his earthly presence. The answer reveals a family secret that has festered for 15 years or more. Plenty of atmosphere, and a persistent young sleuth make this a riveting tale.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 April 2010 05:04

mitchell_shadowedsummerAn Edgar-nominated Southern Gothic for young adults set in post-Katrina Louisiana.

2010 Arthur Ellis Award Nominees

The 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards nominations have been announced by the Crime Writers of Canada. The winners will be announced during a ceremony on May 27 in Toronto. Congratulations to the nominees!

Best Crime Novel
Finger’s Twist, by Lee Lamothe (Ravenstone)
Death Spiral, by James W. Nichol (McArthur & Co.)
Aloha, Candy Hearts, by Anthony Bidulka (Insomniac Press)
Arctic Blue Death, by R.J. Harlick (RendezVous Crime)
High Chicago, by Howard Shrier (Vintage Canada/Random House)

Best First Crime Novel
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada)
The Cold Light of Mourning, by Elizabeth Duncan (Minotaur Books)
Weight of Stones, by C.B. Forrest (RendezVous Crime)
A Magpie’s Smile, by Eugene Meese (NeWest Press)
Darkness at the Break of Dawn, by Dennis Richard Murphy (Harper Collins)

Best French Language Crime Novel
Je compte les morts, by Genevieve Lefebvre (Groupe Librex)
Le mort du chemin des Arsène, by Jean Lemieux (la courtee echelle)
La Faim de la Terre, Volumes 1 & 2, by Jean Jacques Pelletier (Editions Alire Inc.)
Peaux de chagrins, by Diane Vincent (Les Editions Triptyques)

Best Juvenile Crime Novel
Haunted, by Barbara Hayworth Attard (HarperCollins)
Not Suitable for Family Viewing, by Vicki Grant (HarperCollins)
Homicide Related, by Norah McClintock (Red Deer Press)
The Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins)
The Uninvited, by Tim Wynne Jones (Candlewick)

Best Crime Non-fiction
The Slasher Killings, by Patrick Brode (Painted Turtle Press)
The Fat Mexican, by Alex Caine (Random House of Canada)
Murder Without Borders, by Terry Gould (Random House of Canada)
Runaway Devil, by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose (McClelland)
Postmortem, by Jon Wells (John Wiley & Sons)

Best Crime Short Story
• “Backup,” by Rick Mofina (Ottawa Magazine, July/August 2009)
• “Prisoner in Paradise,” by Dennis Richard Murphy (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM])
• “Nothing Is Easy,” by James Petrin (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
• “Time Will Tell,” by Twist Phelan (in The Prosecution Rests, edited by Linda Fairstein; Little Brown/Back Bay Books)
• “Clowntown Pajamas,” by James Powell (EQMM)

Best Unpublished First Crime Novel (The Unhanged Arthur)
This Cage of Bones, by Pam Barnsley
Confined Space, by Deryn Collier
Corpse Flower, by Gloria Ferris
Bait of Pleasure, by Blair Hemstock
Putting Them Down, by Peter Kirby

Super User
Tuesday, 04 May 2010 01:05

The 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards nominations have been announced by the Crime Writers of Canada. The winners will be announced during a ceremony on May 27 in Toronto. Congratulations to the nominees!

Best Crime Novel
Finger’s Twist, by Lee Lamothe (Ravenstone)
Death Spiral, by James W. Nichol (McArthur & Co.)
Aloha, Candy Hearts, by Anthony Bidulka (Insomniac Press)
Arctic Blue Death, by R.J. Harlick (RendezVous Crime)
High Chicago, by Howard Shrier (Vintage Canada/Random House)

Best First Crime Novel
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada)
The Cold Light of Mourning, by Elizabeth Duncan (Minotaur Books)
Weight of Stones, by C.B. Forrest (RendezVous Crime)
A Magpie’s Smile, by Eugene Meese (NeWest Press)
Darkness at the Break of Dawn, by Dennis Richard Murphy (Harper Collins)

Best French Language Crime Novel
Je compte les morts, by Genevieve Lefebvre (Groupe Librex)
Le mort du chemin des Arsène, by Jean Lemieux (la courtee echelle)
La Faim de la Terre, Volumes 1 & 2, by Jean Jacques Pelletier (Editions Alire Inc.)
Peaux de chagrins, by Diane Vincent (Les Editions Triptyques)

Best Juvenile Crime Novel
Haunted, by Barbara Hayworth Attard (HarperCollins)
Not Suitable for Family Viewing, by Vicki Grant (HarperCollins)
Homicide Related, by Norah McClintock (Red Deer Press)
The Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins)
The Uninvited, by Tim Wynne Jones (Candlewick)

Best Crime Non-fiction
The Slasher Killings, by Patrick Brode (Painted Turtle Press)
The Fat Mexican, by Alex Caine (Random House of Canada)
Murder Without Borders, by Terry Gould (Random House of Canada)
Runaway Devil, by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose (McClelland)
Postmortem, by Jon Wells (John Wiley & Sons)

Best Crime Short Story
• “Backup,” by Rick Mofina (Ottawa Magazine, July/August 2009)
• “Prisoner in Paradise,” by Dennis Richard Murphy (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM])
• “Nothing Is Easy,” by James Petrin (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
• “Time Will Tell,” by Twist Phelan (in The Prosecution Rests, edited by Linda Fairstein; Little Brown/Back Bay Books)
• “Clowntown Pajamas,” by James Powell (EQMM)

Best Unpublished First Crime Novel (The Unhanged Arthur)
This Cage of Bones, by Pam Barnsley
Confined Space, by Deryn Collier
Corpse Flower, by Gloria Ferris
Bait of Pleasure, by Blair Hemstock
Putting Them Down, by Peter Kirby

Crippen & Landru: a Complete List of Chapbooks
Mystery Scene

crippen_landru

(Last updated May 2011)

Founded in 1994, the critically lauded Crippen & Landru specializes in single author short story collections, both by current masters and by great authors of the past. Publisher Doug Greene does the editorial work at Crippen & Landru. He is the author of the Edgar–nominated biography, John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, and the editor of several anthologies of short stories himself. Greene was kind enough to explain the series of chapbooks that Crippen & Landru has issued over the years and share a complete list of these fan and collector favorites.

All "subscribers" to C&L who place standing orders on all of the publisher's releases receive an annual Holiday Chapbook and an annual Malice Domestic Chapbook as gifts. Additionally, attendees at each year's Malice Domestic Convention also receive both pamphlets. Crippen & Landru never sell these chapbooks, although they are prized by collectors with several becoming increasingly pricey.

Group 1: Crippen & Landru's Holiday Chapbooks

Greene: The holiday chapbooks—all first publications—are given to subscribers and dealers as thanks for their support. These are original stories that we commission. After publishing the first pamphlet, we added the only requirement for the stories—that they be related to holiday(s) at the end of the year. So far, we have had Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali, Saturnalia, and Hogmanay. Several of the tales have been reprinted in "Best of the Year" collections.

1999 "Room to Let," by Margery Allingham (1st publication of a 1940's radio script). 247 copies.
2000 "The Kiss of Death, A Peter Diamond Mystery," by Peter Lovesey. 321 copies.
2001 "Season of Sharing, A Sharon McCone and 'Nameless Detective' Mystery," by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. 323 copies.
2002 "Mom Lights a Candle, James Yaffe. 353 copies.
2003 "Majumdar Uncle, An Inspector Ghote Story," by H.R.F. Keating. 353 copies.
2004 "No Crib for His Bed, A DKA Files Story," by Joe Gores. 353 copies.
2005 "Blue Christmas, An Inspector Banks Story," by Peter Robinson. 353 copies.
2006 "The Christmas Egg, A Simon Ark Story," by Edward D. Hoch. 353 copies.
2007 " Io Saturnalia!" by Margaret Maron. 353 copies.
2008 "Hogmanay Homicide," by Edward Marston. 353 copies.
2009 "Mr. Bo," by Liza Cody. 253 copies.
2010 "The Yuletide Hogglers," by Kathy Lynn Emerson. 253 copies.

Group 2: Crippen & Landru's Malice Domestic Chapbooks

Greene: The Malice Domestic chapbooks are all first book publications except where noted, with mostly 1000 copies printed of each. These are given as gifts to all attendees of the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention.

These began as uncollected material by the conventions' Ghosts of Honor (celebrated writers of the past), though occasionally they have been Lifetime Achievement Award winners or Guests of Honor. All but two are previously uncollected in the author's books, and one (by Peter Lovesey) is an original written for the occasion.

1998 "The Adventure of the Scarecrow and the Snowman," by Ellery Queen. (First edition of an EQ radio script.)
1999 "The Detective in Fiction" and "Harem-Scarem," by John Dickson Carr. 1999. (Previously uncollected essay and uncollected story.)
2000 "The Surgeon of Gaster Fell," by Arthur Conan Doyle. (First book publication of the original text, though there may have been a ca. 1900 piracy.)
2001 "By His Own Hand," by Rex Stout.
2002 "Chee’s Witch, by Tony Hillerman.
2003 "Liz Peters, PI," by Elizabeth Peters.
2004 "Early Birds," by Erle Stanley Gardner.
2005 "Let Nothing You Dismay!" by Ellis Peters.
2006 "I'll See You in My Dreams," by Craig Rice.
2007 "Night at the Inn," by Georgette Heyer. (Only story in the Malice series previously collected in the author's works.)
2008 "The Homicidal Hat," by Peter Lovesey. (A specially written story.)
2009 "Dr. Couch Saves a Bird," by Nancy Pickard. (Specially revised by the author.)
2010 "The Killdeer Chronicles," by Edward D. Hoch.
2011 "The Lying Game," by Sue Grafton.

Group 3: Crippen & Landru's Companion Chapbooks

Greene: These are chapbooks printed to accompany signed, limited editions of Crippen & Landru books. These are uncollected stories. A complete list of these is available at the Crippen & Landru website.

Group 4: Miscellaneous Chapbooks

2001 "Bouchercon Bound," by Edward D. Hoch. (Distributed at Bouchercon 32, where Ed was the Lifetime Achievement Winner. This is an original story.)

Visit "Collecting Ephemera" by Kate Stine for more about collecting chapbooks.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 08:05

crippen_landruPublisher Doug Greene explains the inspiration behind Crippen & Landru's series of chapbooks.

Graphic Violence: a Talented New Generation of Writers Brings Crime to the Comics
Stuart Moore

rucka_queencountry2_crp

The American comic book industry is primarily known for its superheroes, colorful defenders of justice gifted with exotic powers. But in recent years, a small group of talented writers has broken new ground in one particular area: crime comics.

Crime and mystery fiction have always been represented in the comics. In the ’50s, some of the most extreme (and best) titles in the controversial EC Comics line fell into that category; more recently, Mickey Spillane contributed title and concepts to TeknoComix’s Mike Danger series, and Max Allan Collins has written both the Dick Tracy comic strip and the graphic novel The Road to Perdition, which spawned the recent hit film. And long-running comics characters like Batman and Daredevil have firm roots in the crime pulps of earlier decades.

But the comics medium is often considered a ghetto for kid’s stories, and “pure” crime tales have always been thin on the ground—until now. Over the past decade, six major crime series have made their mark, all, oddly, from different publishers. (Be warned: These are not comics for kids—many of them feature harsh language, violence, and nudity.)

sincitySin City: “Nothing but that cold thing in my gut getting colder”

Frank Miller is one of the best-known and best-regarded creative people in the comic book field. He first made his name as writer/artist of an acclaimed run in Marvel’s Daredevil comic, then moved on to the graphic novel Ronin at DC Comics. But it was his grim, futuristic reimagining of Batman, The Dark Knight Returns, that made him a genuine pop culture superstar.

Sin City (Dark Horse), launched in 1992 in the small-circulation anthology Dark Horse Presents, is Miller’s most personal work. He writes, draws, and letters the stark black-and-white series himself, combining influences as diverse as pop art, grim dystopian science fiction, Japanese comics storytelling techniques, and Mickey Spillane novels. Sin City is set in a corrupt, vaguely futuristic city inhabited by damaged tough guys and sexually dangerous women, narrated by such prose as “It’s another hot night, dry and windless. The kind that makes people do sweaty, secret things.”

Miller has produced seven trade paperback volumes—most of which were previously published as individual comics—but the best Sin City remains the first. In it, a violent bruiser called Marv finds himself at the center of a scam when the beautiful woman he’s miraculously picked up turns up dead in the morning. Marv’s not the smartest guy in the world, but he knows enough to know when he’s being set up—and he doesn’t like it.

The artwork is half the show here; Miller renders the proceedings in a moody, noirish style, heavy on shadows and silhouettes and influenced by the slow, cinematic pacing of many Japanese comics. At times, Sin City falls into the kind of sexism that characterized too much of the ’50s hardboiled crime genre. But it’s always a stylish, fluid, fun read, and clearly the work of a top comics creator doing what he loves best.

bendis_powersPowers: “Kaotic Chic”

Brian Michael Bendis’ career route has been almost directly the opposite of Miller’s: He toiled away for years in comics’ small presses, honing a heavily film-influenced storytelling style, before moving on to Marvel Comics, where he currently writes Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Alias (see below). But he hasn’t forgotten his indy-comics roots, and the ongoing series Powers (Image Comics) proves it.

Set in its own world of comic-book superheroes, Powers follows the exploits of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, two homicide detectives specializing in cases involving “powers,” as the superheroes are popularly known. Complicating matters is Walker’s own past as a “power,” a part of his life he generally refuses to discuss.

Powers is structured as a police procedural, and largely driven by Bendis’s dialogue, which is both cinematic and unusually naturalistic for comics. Artist Michael Avon Oeming renders the proceedings in a very exaggerated style, heavily influenced by both pop art and animated cartoons. This quirky mixture accentuates the emotional reactions of the characters, and is particularly

effective in the climactic scenes, which often involve spectacular, pyrotechnic displays of superhuman power—in sharp contrast to the quiet, Chandleresque dialogue/character scenes that move the rest of the story along.

Much of Powers’ charm lies in the buddy-cop dynamic of the two central characters. Recently, Bendis has split them up, after Walker’s deliberately self-destructive exit from the police force. It’ll be interesting to see where Powers goes from here.

azzarello_100bullets100 Bullets: “Not everyone’s dead…some of ’em still workin’ on it”

The basic premise of 100 Bullets (DC Comics/Vertigo) is both simple and elegant: At the start of each story, the mysterious Agent Graves appears to someone who’s been wronged, handing him or her a gun, a hundred untraceable bullets, and full immunity from any illegal activity. The individual tales then follow the various characters as they take their revenge, decide against it, or come to their own untimely ends.

But Graves has his own reasons for giving out second chances, and over the past three years, writer Brian Azzarello has created a complex, slowly unfolding saga of worldwide conspiracies and hidden agendas. He’s also effectively fused the classic hard-boiled crime story with modern hip-hop settings and language, mixing young black and hispanic criminals with their older, Caucasian counterparts.

Eduardo Risso’s art is a smoky, atmospheric blend of European graphic album styles, with just a hint of some of the great Mad Magazine caricaturists like Angelo Torres & Jack Davis. Risso moves effortlessly from urban slums to strip clubs to hot tropical settings, never missing a beat. Brian Azzarello has become a hot comics writer in recent years, breathing new life into such series as DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer and Marvel/Max’s Cage. But 100 Bullets remains his baby, and its ongoing storyline continues to gather characters and steam.


bendis_aliasalias: “I just want to feel something different”

At first glance, Alias (Marvel/Max; no relation to the TV series) bears a sharp resemblance to Powers, Brian Bendis’ other ongoing crime series. Both deal with crime investigations set in a world of superheroes, and both Powers’s Christian Walker and Alias’ Jessica Jones have super-powers of their own. But where Powers is a police procedural, Alias is a PI story; and Michael Gaydos’s dark, moody Alias art is a sharp contrast to Oeming’s bouncy Powers illustrations. This is deliberate, for Jessica Jones is a failed superhero, driven largely by doubt and a strong self-destructive streak.

There’s one other big difference: Where Power’s superheroes are cut from whole cloth, Alias is set right in the middle of Marvel Comics’ shared universe—which means it’s not unusual to find Jessica drawn into a conspiracy involving Captain America’s secret identity, or legally represented by Matt (Daredevil) Murdock. Or, in the series’ most notorious scene to date, engaged in self-loathing sex with ’70s blaxploitation character Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. But Alias isn’t a superhero story in drag; those elements are the icing, not the cake. Most of the book focuses on Jessica’s day-to-day investigations and interactions with a variety of people. As with the best fantastic fiction, the superhero elements serve as exaggerated metaphors for real-life situations.

Despite her generally bleak outlook on life, Jessica is a fascinating and often darkly witty character. And Alias deftly walks a fine line between being a pure PI tale and an offbeat Marvel comic, making it compelling reading for mystery fans and comics readers alike.

lapham_straybulletsStray Bullets: “I think I saw someone get killed, but it was for real”

David Lapham’s short comics resume consisted of just a handful of superhero comics, written by other people, when he launched the self-published Stray Bullets (El Capitan) in 1995 to immediate acclaim. Like 100 Bullets, Lapham’s similarly-titled series consists of individual character-centered tales that, taken together, form a much larger tapestry. As the stories hop back and forth through the past three decades, with characters weaving in and out, Stray Bullets paints a grand picture of multigenerational petty crime stretching across New York and New Jersey.

Stray Bullets is filled with vivid characters and unexpected twists. But Lapham really shines when focusing on children, such as Joey, whose neglectful mother and small-time-hood uncle inadvertently prepare him for a nervous life of crime; and Ginny, the abused, sporadically violent little girl who fantasizes, also very violently, about being a far-future master thief called Amy Racecar. Lapham draws the strip himself in a very straightforward style, reminiscent in many ways of classic adventure comic-strip art. But it’s also harrowing in its violence, whether he’s depicting a casual slap to a child’s face or a deliberate, grisly murder.

Lapham took a year-and-a-half break from Stray Bullets recently, during which he produced the also-interesting side-project Murder Me Dead. Since returning, he’s filled in some fascinating details in the lives of his large cast, and that’s sure to continue.

rucka_queencountryqueen & country: “It’s not the bullets that has your name on it you have to worry about...it’s all those other ones marked ‘To whom it may concern’”

Greg Rucka is an acclaimed crime novelist (Finder, Shooting at Midnight) as well as a comics writer. His interests come together most purely in Queen & Country (ONI Press), a fascinating, meticulously researched international espionage series focusing on a dirty-tricks division of British intelligence.

In the opening storyline, Tara Chace, a “Minder” for the Ministry of Intelligence, is dispatched to assassinate a Russian general for the greater good. Subsequent storylines have dealt with Chace’s psychological reactions to this act of cold-blooded murder, while moving the focus of the series to Middle East terrorism. In a story begun before 9/11, the Minders are sent to Afghanistan, where Rucka coldly exposes the brutality of the Taleban (as it’s spelled in the story), particularly its treatment of women. The following arc deals with the post-9/11 threat of a Sarin gas attack within England.

Queen & Country has had several different artists in its short run so far but the most stylish is the current one, newcomer Leandro Fernandez (who shares an art studio with 100 Bullets artist Eduardo Risso, a fellow Argentinian). Fernandez’s sexier, more buxom rendition of Tara Chace has been controversial among Q&C’s readers, but his expressive, exaggerated characters, keen sense of place, and slick rendering style give the book a unique look.

All grown up

All six of these series have appeared both as individual comic books and as collected hardcover & trade paperback editions, most of which are in print. They can be found in many Barnes & Noble stores or online at Amazon.com. A good comic book store is more likely to have current issues; local stores can be located by calling, toll-free, 1-888-COMIC-BOOK.

Readers who aren’t used to comic books sometimes find the form difficult to understand. But each of these series is written and drawn at a high level of craft, and the publishers have taken care to provide helpful recaps where appropriate. The other element the titles share is a focus on complex characterization, well beyond that found in most comics.

Which begs the question: Why have crime comics suddenly sprung up in such numbers, and at such a high level of quality? The answer seems to lie in the common interests of a talented group of writers and artists, many of whom are taking time from more lucrative work. And that’s the best answer readers could ask for.

Stuart Moore has been a book editor at St. Martin’s Press and a comics editor at both DC Comics, where he helped found the award-winning Vertigo imprint and edited such series as Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Swamp Thing; and at Marvel, where he relaunched Captain America and edited series including Daredevil, The Punisher, Howard the Duck, and, yes, Alias. He won the Will Eisner award for Best Editor 1996 and the Don Thompson Award for Favorite Editor 1999. These days Stuart is a full-time writer; his science-fiction comic series Zendra is currently being published by PennyFarthing Press.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 07 May 2010 03:05

azarello_100bullets2A group of talented writers and illustrators has broken new ground in one particular area: crime comics.

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Guess the book title and cheat the hangman!
Kinsey Millhone, “G“ Is for Gumshoe
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 05:05

"The joy of being single is you always get to have your own way."

—Kinsey Millhone, “G“ is for Gumshoe, 1990, by Sue Grafton

Dick Tracy’s Motto
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

"Crime does not pay."

—Dick Tracy’s motto in his comic strip, Dick Tracy, created in 1931 by Chester Gould

Motto of the Mystery Writers of America
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“Crime does not pay—enough.”

—Motto of the Mystery Writers of America

Virgil Starkwell, Take the Money and Run
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“I think crime pays. The hours are good, you travel a lot.”

—Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen), Take the Money and Run (1969) screenplay by Woody Allen and Mickey Rose

Spenser, Mortal Stakes
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“When in doubt, cook something and eat it.”

—Spenser, Mortal Stakes, 1975, by Robert Parker

Sam Spade, the Maltese Falcon
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.”

—Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, 1930

Sherlock Holmes to Watson, “the Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual“
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“A man always finds it hard to realize that he may have finally lost a woman's love, however badly he may have treated her.”

Sherlock Holmes to Watson, "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Louverture Damien’s Wife, Split Images
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“If work was a good thing the rich would have it all and not let you do it.”

—Louverture Damien’s wife, Split Images, 1981, by Elmore Leonard

Miss Amelia Butterworth, That Affair Next Door
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“It would never do for me to lose my wits in the presence of a man who had none too many of his own.”

—Miss Amelia Butterworth, That Affair Next Door, 1897, by Anna Katharine Green

Horace Rumpole, “Rumpole and the Younger Generation“
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

"A person who is tired of crime is tired of life."

—Horace Rumpole, "Rumpole and the Younger Generation," Rumpole of the Bailey, 1978, by John Mortimer

Travis Mcgee, Darker Than Amber
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.”

—Travis McGee, Darker than Amber, 1966, John D. MacDonald

Macavity: the Mystery Cat“ Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 06:05

“He always has an alibi and one or two to spare.”

—"Macavity: The Mystery Cat," Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, 1939, T.S. Eliot